When "enough" is not enough: new perspectives on optimal methadone maintenance dose

Mt Sinai J Med. 2000 Oct-Nov;67(5-6):404-11.


Some methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) programs prescribe inadequate daily methadone doses. Patients complain of withdrawal symptoms and continue illicit opioid use, yet practitioners are reluctant to increase doses above certain arbitrary thresholds. Serum methadone levels (SMLs) may guide practitioners dosing decisions, especially for those patients who have low SMLs despite higher methadone doses. Such variation is due in part to the complexities of methadone metabolism. The medication itself is a racemic (50:50) mixture of 2 enantiomers: an active "R" form and an essentially inactive "S" form. Methadone is metabolized primarily in the liver, by up to five cytochrome P450 isoforms, and individual differences in enzyme activity help explain wide ranges of active R-enantiomer concentrations in patients given identical doses of racemic methadone. Most clinical research studies have used methadone doses of less than 100 mg/day [d] and have not reported corresponding SMLs. New research suggests that doses ranging from 120 mg/d to more than 700 mg/d, with correspondingly higher SMLs, may be optimal for many patients. Each patient presents a unique clinical challenge, and there is no way of prescribing a single best methadone dose to achieve a specific blood level as a "gold standard" for all patients. Clinical signs and patient-reported symptoms of abstinence syndrome, and continuing illicit opioid use, are effective indicators of dose inadequacy. There does not appear to be a maximum daily dose limit when determining what is adequately "enough" methadone in MMT.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacokinetics
  • Biotransformation
  • Drug Monitoring
  • Female
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methadone / administration & dosage*
  • Methadone / pharmacokinetics
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / prevention & control*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Methadone